3 Reasons To Say Yes to Moving Abroad + Why I Went Back to China During Covid

It’s not easy moving abroad, especially when you’re alone.

You’re getting used to a new culture. You are trying to figure out a different language (If you don’t speak the same language.) You are also finding out if the food you want to try or decide if you will just live on peanut butter crackers for the rest of your life.

When I first made the decision to move abroad I had a long list of pros and cons. This really helped me visually see what I was leaving behind and what options were available to me.

So of course I made a new list when I was considering the move back to China. This list, was different than the last because I already had an idea of what to expect. There are so many things stressful and difficult about living abroad, but I want to share three reasons from my pro list that had me saying yes to moving back across the world during the aftermath of a pandemic.

And three reasons that may cause you to say yes too.

If you’re not into reading today, you can skip to a video on this topic instead.

1. Work-Life Balance

It’s overwhelming as a teacher trying to run copies, grade papers, have interventions, meet with parents, and create lessons all during a daily 50-minute planning period. Don’t even think about eating or going to the restroom. A teacher’s entire workday is spent implementing lessons they’ve prepared for different students. Most of the time, they are unable to start prepping or get ready for the next go-round until after the children are gone.

One of my main difficulties with teaching in America was the amount of work in addition to my normal work hours. It was never-ending. And I never felt like I was doing enough. When everyone else was able to clock out of their nine to fives, I’d pack all of my things into my school bag (and sometimes three extra bags) and go home and work throughout the evening.

There was no balance. It was non-stop.

Teaching abroad is entirely different. I don’t even have a designated school bag. It also comes with additional prep periods. If you are hired at an international school, you are most likely going to have multiple times during the day where you can plan for your students, collaborate with colleagues, and hold parent meetings.

At my international school, I can complete tasks that need to be done daily, so when I leave I don’t take work-related stresses with me.⁠ This would rarely happen in America.

And you know what this has done? It has opened up much more time for personal growth. When you are not overwhelmed by a never-ending job, you have time to invest in yourself. Is there a creative hobby you only get to do every few months? Do you have a business you want to start but can never find time to set up? Are you running out of hours in the day to dedicate to a community event you actually want to participate in?

When you move abroad you have more free time to feed the aspects of yourself that get neglected in a job that monopolizes all your time.

Yes, I love my job. And yes, I am good at it. But, I also have my own life and personal goals that I want to achieve. Teaching abroad provides an opportunity for me to learn more about myself and where I want to be in life. With my additional free time after work, I get to explore a new city, experience a new culture, and learn a new language. Then share it all with you.

2. Peace of Mind

It’s 100% difficult being black in China. I’m not going to lie.

I am fighting people constantly to get their cameras out of my face. I am being shoved babies to take pictures with. People are always pointing and gawking. A lot of times I felt like a circus sideshow.

However, I have learned that I would sometimes rather deal with being that sideshow when it means I don’t have to be fearful of going places or of the split decisions that people make based on racial biases.

Racism in China is something that you will encounter. But even in the midst of all of the stares and the points and the glances and the whispers, I am not perceived as a threat. People are just curious.

There has never been a moment in America when I’m around particular groups that I don’t feel like I should change what I’m doing to make them feel more comfortable. I am always constantly aware of how I look, how I respond to things, and how my expressions or gestures can be interpreted.

And honestly, it’s liberating not having to do that every day.

Here, I can enjoy a type of freedom that I don’t get at home because I don’t have certain privileges. With it comes a newfound peace and carefreeness that I don’t want to give up any time soon.

I have also never felt safer than living in China. You can’t do anything without people knowing. There is always someone monitoring what is happening. And there are cameras everywhere. I know you might say, “I don’t want people looking at me all the time! I don’t want them knowing where I am!” But the upside of this is people are very concerned about not doing something wrong in public. Even jaywalkers run the risk of being called out on the jumbotron at intersections.

This only adds more freedom and a heightened sense of safety to the equation. I can walk in the middle of the night and not be afraid of someone that’s following me or wanting to cause me harm. It is very seldom that a female solo traveler can say that.

3. Cost of Living

Not many people are aware of the perks that come with teaching internationally. Let me tell you a little something-something.

When you decide to sign a contract as an international teacher, a lot of the schools are going to give you a certain package. Base packages usually include free housing. In addition to this, they cover your insurance and include a beginning and end of contract flight. They may provide lunch, or even breakfast, as well as a resigning bonus. If you’re at an established school, it is possible to receive an attendance bonus and yearly travel allowance to go home or elsewhere.

With so much covered by the school, you have very few living expenses. This means after taxes (if you even have those) your salary is 100% yours to do with as you please.

Go pay off those loans.

I don’t know about you, but I do not work hard every single day to not be able to enjoy my money. I’m going to get the food I want. I’m going to have tea every single day (Maybe twice a day). I am going to go on that trip. Even if I don’t have PTO hours. The flight is booked.

A lot of ex-pat teachers (and ex-pats in general) have saved money living abroad because everything is taken care of by their employers. So they can put that money into savings. In China, there are added benefits with having a lower cost of living. Living abroad has helped tremendously in my goal of paying off my student loan debt before I turn 31. It really does place you in a good financial position for when, or if, you decide to return home. My goal for the end of this contract is to pay off my loans and have enough put away for a sizable down payment on a house.


Weighing your options and determining if you are going to move abroad is literally a life-changing experience. It can be hard if you have no one to bounce ideas off of or if people just don’t understand why you would ever want to leave the amazing country you live in. I can help with that!

I am all about building a happy, fulfilling life with plenty of world experiences.

If you want to grab more control of your time, peace, or money, you don’t have to take a big step like me and leave the country. But if you are interested in the benefits, and negatives, that come with moving abroad, I am here to share all of my experiences with you along the way.

Have you been thinking of moving abroad? Maybe even to China? Leave any questions you have about pretravel preparation and adjusting upon arrival. I will be happy to answer all of them!

For those of you who have lived abroad, what are some of the reasons you think people should say yes to moving abroad too?

You can also follow my journey with daily updates on Instagram and Facebook, or view China vlogs on YouTube.

Three Lessons I Have Learned from 2021 so Far

It’s ok to still not be ok.  We had great hopes that with 2021 would come an end to all the struggles we faced in 2020.  That magically the new year would bring with it a fresh start and a new beginning.  I don’t know about anyone else, but 2021 started off just as bad as 2020 ended, if not worse.  For me, it hit especially hard after losing another close friend and reaching the year milestone of being back home.  By the end of January, I finally took a moment to look in the mirror and honestly tell myself, “I am not ok.”

After I took that moment to come to terms with where I was emotionally everything started breaking down.  All the feelings that I had kept bottled inside for the past year and all the band-aids I was using to stay positive and appear happy just fell apart.  Every day I had a minimum of two meltdowns.  One when I woke up in the morning and one when I settled in in the evening.

I know that I am not the only one.  Other people are still not ok.  You may still not be ok.  For a while I felt like I had no reason to be unhappy because other people are going through so much worse right now.  If you are thinking that yourself, I want to make sure you know that ALL feelings are valid.  Your feelings are valid.  And if you do not take time to acknowledge them, they can overwhelm you to the point where you give up.

For most of 2020 I was still going on survival mode.  But with the beginning of the year came the realization that I am at a crossroads and as much as I want to go back to my old life, it just isn’t there for me anymore.  Faced with such an uncertain future and a difficult last year, it broke me down.

Since January, I have learned that it’s ok to not be ok. But it’s not ok to not get out of bed. Or block out people to the point of self-isolation.  These are some unhealthy habits that are my personal signs of depression.  Once I saw the signs, I knew they were there and it took a while for me to reach out to someone I trust and tell them, “I am not ok.”  If you see the signs.  Tell the RIGHT someone.  They can help you take the next steps you are struggling to take on your own.

I also learned that I was doing too much.  Constantly being pulled in five different ways left little time to decompress.  Everyday there was something that added stress and strain to my already frayed emotions.  I finally realized I just needed to turn off my phone, ignore the outside world, and take time for myself.

This is leads to the third lesson: I choose myself.  People who give so much to others and spend most of their time keeping everyone afloat often neglect themselves.  For teachers, this year has been like none we have ever had before.  Not only are we trying to make it daily, but we are also trying to keep our students together emotionally and academically.  It is so important that at some point everyday you choose yourself.  Every. Day.  Whether that be taking different route home just go get a tea just because you make it through work or investing in a portable massager so you can turn the lights off and feel pampered in your own home.

Some days I’m still not ok.  And you may not be either.  But everyday we can make choices to help alleviate some of the pressure and emotional strain.

That One Time I Didn’t Leave China: Daily Experiences in the Midst of Coronavirus

Hi Everyone!

I’m Christina and I work with Bri in China. This was the first holiday that I’ve decided to stay in the country I work in for a long holiday and lo and behold: Coronavirus.

Officially I can now say that staying at home for about 23 hours a day for the third week in a row is not that bad. I’m grateful that I’m healthy, have wonderful support and company, have a super comfy apartment, am able to read and speak Mandarin, and have plenty of food.

Some truths from someone who is here now (everyday there’s change, so this could be different by the time you’re reading this):

  • Everything (minus some restaurants and grocery stores) is closed.
  • They check your temps and you must sign in with government id when you enter any establishment.
  • Most, if not all, housing complexes are closed to visitors. You must have a card before you exit in order to enter again. I don’t know what happens otherwise. Of course, no visitors are allowed.
  • Our city is spraying streets with disinfectant more than once a day.
  • There’s barely anyone or any cars/motorbikes on the streets minus delivery people and security guards.
  • Medical masks are sold out in person and online. However all establishments that are open have masks, otherwise they cannot operate.
  • Nobody is allowed in any establishment without a mask on and you’re definitely frowned upon and avoided if you don’t have a mask on walking around outside.

Everything happened very quickly. When it was announced that Wuhan was quarantined I would have to say that the numbers they announced were staggering so I understood why they quarantined the city.

Literally within a week, everything became quiet. I remember one day heading out and people were everywhere, out and about, then the next day there were just birds. There was nobody out. That was even before everyone wore masks.

Day by day malls and stores started to close.

Lunar new year holiday, a time when people get together with their families and celebrate, became a lonely and silent one. At that point the city had already shut down all entertainment establishments and prohibited any public gatherings, including family dinners.

The numbers continued to go up, more and more of the population got the virus, and so more and more places started to close. Less people went out.

And now we’re here. It’s been like this for about two weeks now.

As for my day to day, I’m looking after a super cute and sweet dog for a colleague so I walk him in the morning for about an hour. This is my only hour outside each day. It’s is very quiet on the street, which is great for us because this means I can let him off leash in places normally filled with people.

The only four stores that I’ve stepped into for the past three weeks are the Family Mart downstairs, Starbucks Coffee (who now no longer allows people inside), Manner Coffee (now closed), and Matrix Coffee. My groceries are delivered whenever I decide to order them, so I don’t have to step into a grocery store (my fridge has NEVER been this full).

What I’ve noticed is the amazing cooperation of the people living here. Everyone has masks on, the security guards are actually strict and follow the protocols, and most people are staying at home to keep themselves and other safe.

Of course, doctors and nurses in China are all working around the clock. The whole nation is rooting for their safety and proud of their dedication and hard work.

Everyone is hoping that this will get better soon. For now, we have our homes, waimai for some things, Taobao for everything else, and I have the best company a girl can ask for.

Send me a message on insta if you’d like to know more! Like I said, I’m home 23 hours a day.

Now if only the VPN will stay working so I can see this post.

-Christina (@miss.c.lin)

Where I’m From

I’m from patiently waiting until the VCR rewinds. So I can watch The Beast throw open the doors of a literary heaven for his unwanted guest. The panning of the camera taking in the inky collection of far away places and periods ready to be explored.

I’m from conversations on the side of my grandmother’s bed. Agatha Christie, Shakespeare, Wuthering Heights, and Dracula. From characters I would empathize with years before I ever read their fates for myself. I’m from the lifelong search for the adventure of a story ready to be told.

I’m from the inherited unconsciousness of code switching. Of the balancing act between being educated, but not stuck up, and understanding my place within shifting linguistic communities. From, “You talk white,” to, “Ain’t that about a mess.” And all the “bless your hearts” that fall in between.

I’m from, “Tilt your head to the side,” and the anticipation of the hot comb as it reaches that vulnerable spot on the back of my neck. From barrettes and beads and “You got too much hair to be tender headed.” Through the journey of embracing what grows from my head and the understanding that follicles, or the pigmentation of my skin for that matter, don’t make me any less “professional.”

I’m from “I did not have sexual relations with that woman” to “Yes, We Can!” to “Make American Great Again” From the pride that comes from a people that broke out of bondage, to the understanding that bondage does not simply come in the form of physical chains. I’m from the effects of redlining and Jim Crow and the terrorism of white robes and nooses. Lessons not learned from books in the classroom, but from the feelings provoked while driving past police cars. Black Lives Matter.

I’m from that last generation that really knows how to play hopscotch, double dutch, and throw jacks. From pondering the correct number of books, slamming down dominoes, and stacking Draw Four cards. I’m from learning that talking smack, ganging up on people, and teamwork are all equally important.

I’m from the Mothership Connection, the “Call it stormy Mondays,” and the ten minutes of repeating the same words with the Godfather of Soul.

I’m from the understanding that if you don’t like Prince, we just can’t be friends.

I’m from the joy that comes with dialing the whole phone number before the rotary dial makes its way back around. From seeing a symbol as a pound sign and not a metadata hashtag. I’m from the sounds of modems connecting to the internet. The sound of a new era.

I’m from Cowtown, or Funkytown, whatever you want to call it. Except Dallas. From the soothing normalcy of watching free-spin rims and oversize wheels navigate around horses on the same street. I’m from the vibration in my chest that accompanies the bass of a car blocks away.

I’m from church every Sunday morning and the community that is formed around the word of God. I’m from gospel meetings, youth activities, and Black History Month plays. Telling my friend to ask my mom if I can spend the night, because I know if I did she would say no. I’m from the comfort of knowing that I have a family that will always be there for me, even if we don’t share an earthly father. The product of the proverb “It takes a village.”

I’m from too many interests to follow at once. From the sighing head shakes that come with the word “millennial.” Like I am the reason for global warming and our economic situation. I’m from proving that innovation, flexibility, and entrepreneurship do not mean that I will live with my parents forever. Even if I still do.

I’m from field schools and learning new languages. From words like “ethnography” and “participant-observation.” And while I may not be like anthropologists of the past, who wrote those first “Where I’m from” stories, I know the importance of keeping that work alive.

Everyone has a story. And where I’m from has shown me that I can be the one to help share them.

A Special Work

Over the last month or so, upon arriving back in China, I have had the same questions going through my head.

“Ok. Your contract is over soon, what will you do next? Are we going to another place or are we going home? Are you doing the things you have wanted to do? What is even your purpose in life?”

As I reflect on my first year abroad I realize how being alone in the middle of a different country has given me plenty of time to myself to reflect. In these moments of silent reflection I have come to the conclusion that although I am traveling like I always planned to do, it isn’t HOW I planned to do it.

For someone with degrees in anthropology, interests in visual media, and years of traveling periodically, I still find something missing. A purpose. Something that drives me to get out of bed and out of the country. I have never wanted to just be a tourist. I want to travel with meaning. I want to use my God given talents and applied anthropology training to make peoples lives better and inspire and support others in their callings too.

Why is all of this coming up all of a sudden? Well firstly, it’s not. I have just never been in a place in my life where there are no distractions or more pressing things keeping me busy every day. I have always been on the go, or finishing degrees, or trying to figure out how to make money. But now with the freedom of extra time that living abroad has provided, I have become greedy. Greedy to wake up everyday in charge of my own schedule. Greedy to say no to a job that I know I’m using as a crutch to keep myself from stepping out on faith. Greedy to focus on how God can use me.

I am currently at the point in the school year where people are starting to ask, “So what are you doing next?” The answer?

I do know.

I am going to use the rest of this contract to start letting go and praying that God reveals to me a path that glorifies him. A path that allows me to do amazing work in his name.

I have said repeatedly I wanted to be open and honest in my experiences in the great wide somewhere. I know, for myself, how inspiring it has been in my life when people are open with me. And I want to do that for others.

So. I’m here to tell y’all-

I have no plans.

But, God does.

Before I made you in your mother’s womb, I knew you. Before you were born, I chose you for a special work…

Jeremiah 1:5 ERV

Introversion Excursion: Venturing Out of Storybooks and Writing a Story All My Own

*Peeks head out*

I’m doing this. I’m actually doing this. Wow. The vacation time was approved and my plane tickets, visa, passport, and new driver’s license was all in order. I’m packed and on my way to LAX. I can’t believe it. I’m actually going.

I’ll be fine. It’s going to be fine.

ANYONE who truly knows me knows that I prefer to be…not with people. If we are friends, then you know I don’t do the regular chatty text chain messaging throughout the week. It’s perfectly normal for me to fall off the radar and maintain radio silence for weeks, months, even. So, I was taking a major left turn from my normal routine of introverting and flying across the world to be in one of the most populated countries. Thankfully, my travel buddy is someone who understands that silence (or the right playlist) and a book at the end of the day is necessary.

This was going to be my first proper grown-up vacation. I saved my pennies, I earned my vacation hours and was actually going on an actual vacation. Arriving at LAX I made my way easily through the motions of checking luggage, security, and boarding my flight. 14 hours later I had arrived in Shanghai. This trip was going to be just what I needed, a chance to reset, relax, recharge, reconnect, and reclaim myself. The ultimate introversion excursion. *Dibs on the blog name*

Arriving at Shanghai-Pudong International (PVG) I was confronted with my first obstacle. The language barrier. Let’s set the scene. I had not slept in the 24-hours prior to boarding my 14-hour flight, my tall frame in economy seating didn’t encourage much in-flight sleep, and I had to get through customs. That wasn’t the problem though, a large tour group  thwarted any chance of a speedy entry into the greater PVG airport. As I stood in line I thought to myself, there is no way I’m going to reach baggage claim in time. Sure enough, the assigned carousel for my flight was no longer in motion. I scanned signs and screens. Finally, my eyes landed on something akin to, ‘Baggage Inquiry’. I walked up to the counter and having learned absolutely no Mandarin and the nice young woman at the counter having limited English proficiency we clumsily established that I needed to go to another counter entirely.

Not even 60 minutes into this new country and I was already failing as an applied anthropologist. I had known for months that I would be taking this trip and yet, uncharacteristically, I didn’t prepare. I had completely thrown caution to the wind. Something my friends and family know is unlike me.  The language barrier made it so that I was erroneously sent to the wrong queues and my attempt to just slip under the rope to claim my bag was met with a stern denial by an airport employee. I could see my suitcase, I just couldn’t get to it. Anthropologists know that even copious planning cannot prepare you for the unknown, here I was, the other in the unknown. Being in new surroundings and not speaking the languages I had my first obstacle to tackle.

Finally arriving at the proper counter, I was cut off by another traveler, male, middle-aged, and entitled. His attitude with the woman at the counter made my pending interaction with her less hopeful. The man left in a huff and the woman behind the counter glared at me, daring me to step forward and ask for whatever I had come in search of. I was over it, she was over it. Without taking a step forward and not caring if she understood my English or not, I stated matter-of-factly, “I see my bag. Can I just take it?” Without skipping a beat, or bothering to confirm my tickets, she said yes. I gladly took my suitcase and headed for security. 60 some odd minutes after landing I was finally out of customs with my possessions and heading to meet Bri.

I met Bri at arrivals and we were heading off to Kunshan. Honestly, the subway, train, and DiDi rides to her apartment were the perfect windows of opportunity to be abducted, as at this point, I was flowing in and out of sleep.  Liam Neeson is not my dad so thankfully I made it to Bri’s apartment and am now writing this blog post.

Being in a country where you don’t speak the language can be an incredibly isolating sensation.  It’s also an opportunity to be opportunistically reflective and ponder simple daily-living activities one takes for granted at home. One of my questions to Bri, as we were sitting in a train station, was, ‘How did you manage to navigate when you first arrived?’ Bri explained that you learn through trial-and-error, over-plan your route/destination, and practice the questions/phrases you will use when arriving at key travel junctures. Taking in Bri’s response I considered this and stored it away as I would like to one day live abroad myself.

Our 5-day excursion was incredible. Visiting places I had only previously seen in books and on screen was a fantastic realization of travel dreams my inner-explorer finally unleashed in the world. For my entire life, it has been a dream to travel and see as much of the world as I can. This trip enabled me to finally put those dreams firmly in reality.

I had to refrain from becoming over-excited in capturing the passing country-side as we traveled down tracks leading us from one destination to another.  Apart from the destinations themselves, the best part of this trip was engaging with the people we met at each place. Even though I could only communicate very poorly with language, there are the universal human conditions that make interacting beyond language so meaningful. I was most often the passenger of conversations as Bri communicated most of the time and translated for me.

My short stay in China also gave me a glimpse into daily annoyances and struggles of being the other in the most absurdly plain way, being a woman of color in a place like China. For one, comically speaking, Bri and I are going to stand out no matter where we go together as we are so dichotomously paired. Bri is slight and lean while I am decidedly not. We also stand a full 12 inches apart in height. Casting this aside, on my first day over school lunch I asked Bri, “So is being stared at a thing here?” The answer was a resounding, “Yes”.

On one occasion riding around Kunshan, our Didi driver took the liberty of turning his body around and staring at us while we waited for a red light to turn green. He mumbled something and Bri fixed one of her perfected stares his way and told him to return to driving since traffic had begun to move again.

On one of my last nights in Kunshan, as we sat outside on the curb of a store observing the nightly women’s dance group the vibe was decidedly more neighborly.  Dancers and observers alike were curious to know about Bri and I as people- Where were we from? What were we doing in China? Were we teachers or students? How did I like the dancing? These are the interactions that you carry with you and remind you that time, distance, and space is no match for the common thread that ties people together, community. I’ll carry my experiences and memories with me. Continuing to pursue that anthropological life of discovering and unpacking the meaning of what it is to be human.

You can see all of our trip here:

Sleeper TRAIN ADVENTURES

Five Things I Did to Teach Myself Chinese and Pass HSK 3 in 9 Months

This morning, I received my HSK results! You may be able to tell from the title, but I PASSED! Yay me!

When I moved at the beginning of August, I was determined to learn Mandarin during my time here. I love languages, and picking them up has always come easy to me. While I had heard repeatedly how difficult it is to learn Chinese, I was prepared to face this challenge.

HSK 3

HSK, or Hanyu Shuiping Kaoshi, is the official Chinese proficiency test for foreigners. It can open the door to multiple school and work opportunities. HSK 3 tests intermediate Chinese, covering 600 vocabulary words and equivalent to about 1.5-2 years of study. To be guaranteed acceptance to most positions, you must have a HSK 4 level proficiency of higher.

At first, my goal was to pass HSK 4 by the end of my second year abroad. Being an anthropologist, I simply could not allow myself to live somewhere for so long and not communicate with people around me. Now, my goal is to take HSK 5 at the end of next school year.

I believe I have picked up on Mandarin fairly quickly, but it was not always an easy process. It was just after about a month of getting settled that I began to actively study Mandarin on my own. Along the way, I found a pretty comfortable routine that led me to quicker success.

Study Routine

1. NO REAL TIME TRANSLATION APP USE

From the very beginning I noticed how easy it became for me to depend solely on the ability of my phone to translate my writing and speech into Mandarin. Having never lived in a place where I couldn’t communicate with people, it was a new, and difficult, experience for me on a daily basis. However over time I realized not only was I not retaining any of the information that was being transmitted, but I also would walk away from a conversation not even knowing what the person I talked to looked like.

It was then that I made myself put down my phone while out, using it only to help ME say one or two words. This pushed me to practice simple location and topic specific sentences before leaving the house so that I was prepared for the conversations I knew I would have.

2. I WATCHED ONLY CHINESE TV AND TOOK NOTES

When I say I watched ONLY Chinese TV, it is not much of an exaggeration. Everyday, when I get home after work, I watch Mainland and Taiwanese dramas, and whatever other Mandarin language show. I have been in China almost a year and only went to the movies for the first time this month. Outside of TV time with friends, and finishing Game of Thrones, I would say 97% of the television I have watched in China has been in Mandarin with English subtitles.

I did this for a couple of reasons. First, watching shows about everyday life helps me pick up useful daily phrases and vocabulary. It also helps with fluency, listening, and pronunciation. Second, it is extremely helpful when trying to learn more about Chinese culture, norms, and society. Third, taking notes in my journal, that has it’s own place on the couch, provides me extra sources of practice material.

3. I USED THE PEOPLE AROUND ME

Over the past few months I have used every opportunity available to practice what I have learned in order to retain all the new information. This included talking to people in my community, chatting with my students, and harassing Chinese coworkers in broken, English-Mandarin sentences. In multiple cases this allowed for me to learn more about grammar, associated words, and colloquial phrases.

I did at times attend an informal weekly Mandarin class given by one of the Mandarin teachers at our school, but soon realized that I was learning at a quicker pace on my own. I continued to go, but made sure to have my own materials and questions about things I was studying so that they could be answered during this time.

4. I USED APPS

I owe a lot of what I have learned to my favorite Mandarin learning app HelloChinese. I loved how user friendly it was, and that it allowed me to learn by listening to native speakers. It was also beneficial because it was important to me that I not only learn to speak Chinese, but also be able to read and write at the same level. This app allowed me to do practice all areas of the language so I felt balanced. I finished all lessons on the app by the time I began officially practicing for HSK. It was then that I added two more apps- Chinese HSK and HSK Online. The listening, reading, and writing in these apps are solely vocabulary being tested on HSK. It was convenient to be able to practice with mock questions and exams that were structured exactly like the real test.

5. I PRACTICED CONSISTENTLY AND WITH PURPOSE

While I did not practice everyday, I practiced CONSISTENTLY. When I felt like my brain was going to explode or I was feeling too overwhelmed with the sheer size of a new language, I took a break. But some days I would find myself practicing on my apps for HOURS after already watching multiple TV episodes.

It got to the point where I would think of responses to conversations in Chinese first and began actively looking for things I could understand around my environment. I practiced with children’s books during my school breaks, making my poor co-teacher listen to all my choppy sentences and help me with characters I didn’t know. When I realized Pinyin was making me dependent and lazy, I switched all my apps to characters only and covered up the Pinyin in books. With all of my new vocabulary up until the final cram, I made sure I could understand it, say it, read it, and write it in characters.

Results

When I finished HSK 3 in May, I felt confident in my test performance. Each of the three sections, listening, reading, and writing, has a maximum of 100 points each. The minimum passing score is 180. I walked away with a 254 out of 300, with an 83, 79, and 92 in each of the respective areas.

All in all the entire process was slow enough that it did not feel like I was in studying a language just to pass a test. While the last couple months leading up to the test were a cram, (because I chose to switch to HSK 3 instead of taking HSK 2, adding 300 new words), I had already begun to retain so much. I am no longer a stranger in my city. I can speak Chinese.

Are you learning a new language or taking HSK soon? Do you have any language learning tips or resources?

Sleeper Train Adventures: Tea Picking in Meijiawu Village

It happened y’all. I found a place to pick tea. My last day in Hangzhou I woke up with positive thoughts, telling myself I just had to get outside and it will all work out.

After breakfast I set out for Meijiawu Village, another area in Hangzhou famous for it’s tea fields. I wasn’t in the rice fields five minutes before I found my first opportunity to learn about tea picking. Seeing a lady picking tea I walked up the terrace to ask if I could take her picture, passing by a group of older ladies taking pictures together.

They of course stopped me to ask if I would take a photo with them and, because I said I would put myself out there more on this trip, I agreed and started chatting with them.

When more of their friends joined them, they invited me to their home for tea and to meet their niece who speaks fluent English. I can say that I was definitely not expecting the 11-year-old that met me at the doorway. She was such a vivacious little girl. Excited to hear all about the U.S. and share information about her community. We ended up strolling down the street for a while and and stopping to watch people pick tea. During this time she told me about her dreams of being a reporter and traveling the world to learn about different cultures.

While I would have loved to stay with them all day and learn more about their lives, I was still on a mission to pick tea and I had a 4 o’clock train to catch. So I left with promises to see them the next time I was in town and headed down the road in search of tea pickers.

It didn’t take me long to see cars parked on the side of the road and people scattered in the fields. I continued to walk, knowing that I would know when I found what I was looking for. And sure enough! I saw a group of people with matching hats and aprons and baskets picking tea. The first thing I though was, “This will work! I will take commercialized tea picking at this point!” So, I asked the first set of young women taking selfies I saw (they always have the best information) how I could pick tea. They texted someone in charge and when he arrived he asked me to wait for him to return them to the house and return. Next thing I know, I’m in uniform and in the field!

What I learned on this trip is that when you are picking tea, you are looking for leaves that are about about one to two finger joints in length, and have a bud attached to the base. I was actually nervous I wasn’t doing it right when the farmer left me. Others were picking so fast! But I’ve been waiting forever to do this and I didn’t want to do it wrong!⁣ I kept thinking “Is this too short? Is this too long? Did that have a bud or was I imagining things.” You know how you are so excited about something, you stress yourself out when it actually happens? Yea. That was me.

But I enjoyed every moment.

What was great about this experience wasn’t only picking tea, but also being able to watch it be processed and packed up just for me!

At this point I feel like I can leave China now. I did what I came to do.

Sleeper Train Adventures:

Sleeper Train Adventures: Longjing Village and Dragon Well Tea

We started off our first full day in Hangzhou eating breakfast at our hotel. It was nice to finally have a day where we didn’t have to wake up and rush somewhere. This was the part of the trip that I had planned the least. I only had one goal for the last leg of this trip:

Find a place to pick tea

Thankfully there were hotel umbrellas because there was a high chance of rain. The overcast sky ensure that it was cool enough to make our walk easier, but it did not bode well for my chances of comfortable tea picking.

We decided to walk down to the China National Tea Museum first because it was close to our hotel. That way we could wait out the rain and learn about my favorite drink! The view from the mountains was just amazing.

The China National Tea Museum

The China National Tea Museum is the only museum dedicated to tea in the whole of mainland China, so it was a must-do. Unfortunately for us there were buses of school children on field trips so a majority of or stroll was trying to avoid children. But, we learned so much about the tea making process and it’s use around the world.

Luckily the sun came out for a while so we could explore the beautiful paths up the surrounding mountain.

Longjing Village

Our hotel location was perfect. It took us no time to get to the Tea Museum and it was just a little walk from there to Longjing Village. This is what I had been waiting for. To sip on some tea while I’m surrounded by tea leaves. Heaven on Earth.

As you walk in to Longjing Village, there are plenty of people out with their stands selling Longjing or inviting you to eat at their restaurant. The rain was done for the day so, since we didn’t have to worry planning our tea fields walk around the weather, we stopped for lunch. The older lady who called us over to her restaurant on the hill was really kind and patient with me as I tried to interpret the menu. At last I got what I wanted. The world-renowned Longjing tea.

On the days before Qingming holiday, which was right before we arrived in Hangzhou, the first harvest of the season takes place. Some of this top quality, first pick, Longjing tea could sell for as much as $100 an ounce. Unfortunately, I missed being able to see the processing of this tea, which is all done by hand. The tea is roasted in iron pans and then folded and flattened. Next year this is my goal. I used this trip to scout out the area. Unfortunately my hotel, and neighboring hotels, are ALREADY booked for Pre-Qingming.

Why else is Longjing tea so sought after? Well, according to legend, during the Qing Dynasty there was a emperor who visited Hangzhou and drank Longjing tea. He loved it so much he declared 18 tea bushes under imperial protection.

Longjing tea is also known as Dragon Well tea. It could take this name for many reasons- for the Dragon believed to live in the village, for the name of the temple where the tea is planted, or for the dragon shape that appears in the well water it rains. 

I didn’t find a place to pick tea on this day and I only had one more on the terraces. I was determined to get that experience. I tried not to be too bummed out about it though, things always happen when they are meant to.

Thankfully, the girls at the hotel were cooking later that night while I was in bed wallowing in my sorrows. A message asking me if I wanted to try some sweet porridge followed by a knock on the door, made my evening. That sweet porridge was medicine for the soul. Luckily Jackie was asleep so I was able to eat her bowl too. The next day was a new day, and I was ready for the experiences it would provide

Sleeper Train Adventures:

Sleeper Train Adventures: Two Mountain Hotels with Great Views

We woke up early on our second day in Beijing to make our way back down to the city and catch our afternoon train to Hangzhou. Waking up to the view of the Great Wall outside our window really made me question our decision to no stay an extra night. However we had to make our train because we had nonrefundable tickets for the Impressions show on West Lake and wouldn’t be able to go a different night.

I figured I would use this post to show off the two great places we stayed in Beijing and Hangzhou. Our Beijing hostel host was just the sweetest. You can read more about her and our stay in at Yijing Bashan Hostel in my post about our hike along the Jiankou Great Wall Section.

Before we left the hostel, I took full advantage of the fact that my pajamas matched the room. I set up the tripod to the rolling eyes of Jackie packing up in the background. Don’t worry. I made her pose for some too.

Āyí had a light Chinese breakfast waiting for us that morning, so we sat down to eat before or 8 o’clock pick up. If I would have known traffic was going to be so heavy I would have had us leave a few minutes earlier. Like always we were rushing to catch our train to Hangzhou, but we made it.

After six and a half hours, we arrived in Hangzhou with 2 hours until our lake show began. We had JUST enough time to catch a Didi to our hotel on the rice terraces, drop our bags off, and catch another Didi to West Lake. Our hotel in Hangzhou, Sansu Hotel, was located along the tea terraces (because where else would I stay.)

When we arrived, there was someone waiting for us at the Sansu Mural to help us find our way along the alley to the entrance.

It’s a small hotel with about seven rooms and an atmosphere that just makes you want find a corner and read. The women who work were friendly and helpful when we needed. Also they always had an evening snack for me.

We couldn’t enjoy our hotel the first night, but after our long outing the next morning, we called it an early night. Which means there was plenty of daylight left. So of course I changed clothes and took more pictures.

If you have never set your camera up and treated yourself to a photo shoot, do it. One of the things I promised when I moved was to be in front of the camera more, instead of just behind it. It has definitely changed the way I see my new environments and how I see myself.

Sleeper Train Adventures: